Geneviève Brisac

Geneviève Brisac
Photo: Philipp Matzas, Agence Opale

What does the term refugee mean to you?

It's me and it it's not me. It could be me, and yet I know that I know almost nothing of how these millions of people live. However, I think of my ancestors, German Jews, Spanish Jews, Turkish or Greek Armenians, or subjects of the Austro-Hungarian empire, who had to take to the roads, take trains, carriages or ships to flee. And to try to find a place of refuge. In Italy, France, the USA, England or elsewhere.

Is flight from poverty less legitimate than flight from war or political oppression?

There are certainly differences: each historical and geographical situation is unique. Yet the three reasons for flight merge and are difficult to distinguish one from the other: hunger, war and political, ethnic or racist violence. That's how it was for Polish Jews in 1920. But that doesn't mean that one exile is more legitimate than another. And to despise poor refugees in order to favor political refugees who are comfortably off is a very short-sighted policy. The wealth of a human being is not necessary in due proportion to his or her social origin. As for generosity, what's special about it is that it does not expect a reward of any sort.

And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?

Ecological problems always become political problems. Fleeing a region that has been turned into a desert, has been flooded, parched or is burning, is quite simply evidence if one can flee at all. Unfortunately we will all be faced with acute ecological problems from which we cannot flee... our planet.

When does one cease to be a refugee?

When he or she feels at home in the host country.

Is there a natural right to asylum?

Of course. There even rests an obligation on the rich nations that are at peace to contribute to rebalancing our shared world. We are well aware that if we don't do so we run the risk of much worse dangers. That is déjà vu.

If yes: is this right unconditional, or can it be forfeited?

That is for the judges and the legal system to decide.

Do you think that the number of refugees a society can absorb is limited?

I don't think so. It shouldn't be so. This is invoked to justify eternal xenophobia. Spaniards and Italians were rejected in France, until the ostracism and racism of which they were the victims found other targets.

Are there privileged refugees in your country, i.e. refugees that are more welcome than others? If yes: why?

Yes. It's well known, but those with special conditions today won't necessarily be so tomorrow, and vice versa.

Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?

I don't think so.

What are the requirements for successful integration?

- on the part of the refugees?

Intelligence, humanity and mutual curiosity.

- on the part of the citizens of the host country?

Intelligence, humanity and mutual curiosity.

Do you know any refugees personally?

Of course.

Do you actively support any refugees?

As much as I can. More or less actively and generously, depending on the moment. Through organizations.

How will the refugee situation in your country develop

a) over the next two years?

I hope it will improve...

b) over the next two decades?

I don't know...

Can you imagine a world without refugees?

Yes. But I know I'm dreaming.

If yes: what does it take?

More interaction, and knowledge of each other.

Have you or your family ever been refugee?

Yes, my family comes from all over the world. And yet we are and we know French. A long story.

Do you think you will ever be a one?

I don't rule that out.

- If yes: why?

Political violence and racism are permanent dangers. Nationalism and populism terrify me, of course.

- How do you prepare yourself?

I think of what my father said, "If I have to leave, I could always become a head waiter or waiter". Me too. Waitress.

- To which country would you take refuge to?

There are several. Quebec, Italy, Sweden, the USA and more.

How much “home” do you need?*

I will quote you Marguerite Yourcenar's motto:
We don't care, we're not from here, tomorrow we'll be off.

*This question was taken from Max Frisch’s questionnaire concerning “heimat”.